Students participate in historic apartheid litigation

Supreme CourtLast week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case that nearly 20 Harvard Law School Human Rights Program clinical students have worked on over the last three years. The students assisted with the case — American Isuzu Motors v. Ntsebeza — on behalf of a group of South African apartheid victims, who brought claims against over 50 top multinational corporations for doing business with the apartheid regime.

The ruling was surprising: four justices recused themselves, so the Court lacked a quorum to hear the appeal brought by more than 50 leading companies. As a result, the Court issued a summary order affirming the lower ruling, which allowed the survivors of apartheid to bring claims against the corporations.

The lower court ruling from October 2007 held that survivors of apartheid could bring claims against dozens of multinational corporations on an aiding and abetting theory. The suits allege that the companies involved—including IBM, CitiGroup, Credit Suisse, Hewlett-Packard, Bank of America, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler—knowingly aided the apartheid regime in its commission of human rights violations by providing financing, material and training to the government. The cases seek $400 billion in damages.

The plaintiffs in the case include family members of those who were killed by the South African apartheid regime. The case was brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law that allows non-U.S. citizens to bring civil cases in U.S. courts for the violation of universal human rights norms.

Human Rights Program Clinical Director Tyler Giannini and Clinical Litigation Fellow Nathan Ela ’07 supervised the students’ work on the case. HLS students who were involved include: Jillian Ashley ’07, Matthew Bugher ’09, Cori Crider ’06, Alexia DeVincentis ’09, Katherine Glenn ’09, Jonathan Jenkins ’08, Jose Klein ’08, Sarah Knuckey LL.M. ’06, Andrew McIntyre LLM ’08, Meghan Morris ’08, Yvonne Osirim ’07, Amanda Perwin ’07, Sarah Rice ’07, Kelsey Shannon ’07, Wieli Shaw ’09, Leigh Sylvan ’09, Andrew Woods ’07, and David Zionts ’08. The supervising litigation fellow, Nathan Ela ’07, also worked on the project as a student at HLS.